Merck/AAAS grant to fund student research

Patricia SattelbergA three-year $60,000 grant from Merck and the American Association for the Advancement of Science will give SUNY Oswego students intensive opportunities for hands-on research and interdisciplinary learning.

“This is a very high-profile grant. We’re one of only 11 colleges selected for the program,” said Dr. Kestas Bendinskas of SUNY Oswego’s chemistry department, who oversees the grant. “There are only 50 Merck scholars in the U.S., and four of them are on our campus.”

The grant enables students to work on summer research projects. Tia Hendershott and Patricia Sattelberg (pictured) will team with Bendinskas on developing methods to detect the date-rape drug Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, or GHB, in liquids. Robert Birdsall and Michael Mastromauro will collaborate with Dr. Diane Chepko-Sade on measuring levels of fecal cortisol in wolves to see if rearing them socialized to humans reduces stress.

The projects this summer meet the grant’s goal of developing cross-program approaches to research and scholarship, Bendinskas said. Each project has a biological sciences and chemistry student working with faculty from each department. For the wolf study, the students work with Chepko-Sade, a behavioral biologist, in the field, and Bendinskas in the lab. For the GHB project, the students and Bendinskas work with Dr. James MacKenzie of the biological sciences department on cloning procedures, bacterial growth and DNA manipulations.

The work represents a wider trend of cooperation between the sciences at SUNY Oswego, Bendinskas noted, as more biology majors are taking chemistry courses beyond the basic requirement and the new biochemistry major has sparked student interest. Such facilities as the Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Center and the Mass Spectroscopy and Proteomics Center provide hands-on learning for students majoring in both programs.

Oswego’s institutional support for facilities, faculty, collaborative research, programs like the Science Today lecture series and interdisciplinary studies were key to receiving the prestigious grant, Bendinskas noted.

The Merck/AAAS grant allots $12,000 in stipends for students working this summer, with the college contributing room and board. Another $7,000 covers reagents, supplies and equipment. The final $1,000 includes funding for workshops, a new student Quest award and opportunities for the students to interact and to share knowledge.

“This project will provide me with an amazing insight on the research aspect of medicine, a field that I am interested in as a possible career,” said Hendershott, a sophomore biology major from LeRoy. “With successful completion, I also hope to have published works on my research, as a means of entering the scientific community.”

Sattelberg expects the project to help her apply for additional undergraduate research experiences and doctoral programs. “Also, with the data from this research, I plan on presenting at local and regional conferences during my junior year, with national conferences in my senior year,” the junior biochemistry major from Cicero said. She also plans to collaborate on publishing a paper on the GHB study.

Birdsall, a senior chemistry major from Baldwinsville, sees the project as a chance for personal enrichment while aiding a greater animal-related cause. “I hope my participation helps move the research forward to its ultimate goal, which is to provide scientific evidence for the Merck committee relating to stress in captive animals and better practices to help reduce that stress,” he said.

“I expect the opportunity to open avenues to grad school and research. It will be a great resume builder but it would also be something that I enjoy,” said Mastromauro, a junior zoology major from Astoria. “The key to science is collaboration, and by the end of the project I hope to have achieved strong relationships with my co-workers which would lead to a well-rounded, well-performed scientific study.”

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(Posted: Apr 19, 2006)